Union Cabinet reshuffle, a disappointment!

The second reshuffle or rejig in the Union Council of Ministers by the Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh on July 12,  2011 is disappointing, to say the least. The first such reshuffle was effected in January 2011. Both taken together and as announced by the Prime Minister that it would be the last shuffling of the UPA-11 Government before the next General Elections to the Lok Sabha in May 2014 have come as a damp squib. It seems the UPA-11 has lost the will to govern much less take decisive measures to stem the rots of corruption, inflation and ability to reassure the people, the ultimate sovereign masters that the Government is business like and not adrift. Added to this, the Government appears to have lost the plot.

In the scheme of the Constitution of India, the Government set up under clause (3) of Article 77, is one body and soul with different limbs in the form of various Ministries/Departments to provide specialized services to the nation. This means that the Government is cohesive to provide integrated coordinated approach to the issues of governance and intended solutions to the problems facing the nation. The drift in the form of inertia and stand still in the Government do not appear to have been addressed in the reshuffle.

The fact that the big four Ministers- Home, Finance, Defence and External Affairs- have been left untouched shows the incompetence of the Government in dealing with the emerging challenges. External Affairs Minister S.M.Krishna, rated on the laurels of Bangalore having emerged as the Silicon Valley of India on account of his initiatives as the Chief Minister of Karnataka, has grown old enough with a poor reflex system as can be seen from his last performances in the United Nations and tackling the issue of Indian hostages held by the Somali pirates in the high seas, the two recent examples giving the impression of his growing ineffectiveness in the days to come.

The emerging challenges before the nation are India as a rightful destination for foreign investments at a time of the economic downturn of the developed world and geo-political interest of the country vis-à-vis neighbouring countries and others in the emerging economies. One wonders how will Krishna be able to take up such daunting tasks? This vital Ministry surely needed a younger and more articulate Minister with fresh ideas and approach to steer India clear at international fora and in the comity of nations..  Similarly, Defence Minister A.K.Antony, a man of unimpeachable integrity and probity, perceived publicly to be conservative and impeding or slowing the process of modernization of our defence forces, should have been replaced by a younger and more active person who could guide the destiny of India’s defence in keeping with the nuances of the globalised world. The oligarchy of the big four oldies is discomforting to the well-meaning people.

At a time when media have emerged all-in-one out and out negative and as complainant, prosecutor and judge with the public perception of the UPA-11 Government as the most corrupt one with its ability to tackle grave issues like price rise, corruption and unemployment under cloud, the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Ambika Soni needed to be axed for her inept handling of the media.. She has become a dead wood and has outlived her utility. She should have been replaced by a younger and articulate person who could generate ideas to keep official media heads on tenterhooks by tightening screws against them in order to deliver by disseminating  information and publicity in the positive light to fill the space that are currently filled by negative news and false information.

So many things are happening in the Government on developmental front and people needed to be informed about such development as a hallmark of responsive and caring Government. But nothing goes home to them. Only negative propaganda and campaign against the Government appear to be the order of the time. Over and above, the State Governments are taking credit by default for various flagship programmes in the infrastructural and social sectors as the money allocated for such welfare programmes is spent through the State Government agencies, which generally siphon off money, fudge data and send bogus utilization certificates to the Government of India. Official media could be made to play primordial role in countering ill-conceived propaganda of the States.

The one and only good thing that has happened is elevation and shifting of hyperactive, action oriented, hard task and responsive Jairam Ramesh as the Minister of Rural Development, with his ability to deliver. He is a man of ideas and expected to oversee effective implementation of flagship rural welfare programmes. He will ensure effective implementation of rural development by keeping the state governments’ agencies on tenterhooks so that they are not able to siphon off allocated funds, fudge the data by giving bogus completion and utilization certificates. The other redeeming feature is transfer of Salman Khurshid as Minister of Law and Justice. He is a balanced man with his ability to maintain a perfect equilibrium between the three organs of the state- executive, legislature and judiciary- unlike his immediate predecessor Veerapa Moily, who had penchant for shooting his mouth on all issues while letting the integrated coordinating machinery of his Ministry slip away from under his feet despite the fact that he is a well meaning political leader with proven ability.

All said, the reshuffle is an opportunity lost and at that an ill-conceived exercise though not ill timed. One can understand the art of political balancing, expediency and coalition compulsions. What one cannot understand is inability of the leadership of the dominant Congress party to axe some more of its nonperforming Ministers to come out unscathed to refurbish and make over its sagging public image that the Government is responsive and not adrift!

Writer  Mr. M Y siddiqui is former director of Public Relation for Law and justice & Railways, Govt of India.

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